During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” proganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Carthalia

Carthalia

Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

myArmoury.com

myArmoury.com

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Japanese Ww2 Roc Flag Republic Of China Battle Booty Sword Helmet Guns Pc Japanese Ww2 Comic Banzai Nanking Fall Enter Gate Conquer Parade PostcardJapanese Ww2 Comic Army Arisaka Rifle Maintenance Tools Clean Duty PostcardJapanese Wwii Roc Aircraft Shot Down Air Battle China Attack PostcardJapanese Ww2 Comic Field Machine Gun Unit Fire Orders Training 400m Target PcJapanese Ww2 Comic Army Life In China Haircut Word Card Barber Wwii Cartoon Pc Japanese Ww2 Comic China Sino Station Palm Reading Translate Dictionary PcJapanese Ww2 Comic China Wall Battle Sniper Biplane Binoculars Machine Gun PcJapanese Ww2 Comic China Great Wall Damage Break Advance Cannon Artillary PcJapanese Wwii Comic Torrential Rain Gear Frontline Advance Propaganda Pc Japanese Wwii Shandong China Marriage Parade Photo Antique Postcard Japanese Wwii Propaganda Photo Shandong Chinese Beauties Rake Fallen Leaves PcSoldiers' Pay Infantry. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Harrison&sons Printers C1910Rare Ww1 - Australian Commonwealth Military Services Embroidered PostcardOriginal Ww1 Silk Postcard Greetings From The Trenches + Small CardBc – Victoria, Fort & Government St., Soldiers Outside The “dugout” C.1918 RppcRppc-nanticoke Pa-loomis Colliery-coal Breaker-disabled Ww1 Veterans-'31-luzerneOld Hong Kong, Sailor's And Soldier's Home PostcardMalta, Gozo, Fort Camb Ray, Chambray, Military Postcard China Peking 1910's Color Pc "the Army Flag Of The Chinese Republic" U To UsaGreece:1941 Wwii, An Illustrated Censored Military Card, From The Albanian Front51312864 - Original Wwi Fighter Pilot Lietenant Udet Sanke 604Ww1 Wwi Postcard ~ Anzac ~ Australian Wattle ~thoughts In Absence ~ AustraliaWw1 Patriotic Artist Signed Postcard ~ The Essex Regiment Are After Kaiser BillTurkey / Sultan Mehmed Rechad With Ottoman Pachas, Military Dachshund Tuf Of War Dog Bear Bulldog Poodle Original Ww1 Wwi Old C1915 PostcardItaly1942 Albania Fascism Legion Real Territorial Police Carabinieri Of Vlora Ww1 Comic Postcard 1914 1918 Anti Kaiser Lusitania Nurse Cavell Devil Hell ThemeTurkey -dardanelles-gallipoli War-advirtesement Card French Warship" Suffren "Turkey -dardanelles-gallipoli War- Village Madytos,edt.dermond SmyrneBrompton And Sawdon North Yorkshire War Memorial Old Postcard (j028)27 Battleship Postcards/3 Stereoview Cards:1905-1920Four Silk Embroidered Cards - Royal Army Medical Corps & Ww1 Allies - No ReserveWorld War I Real Photo Postcard 11 U.s. Army Soldiers Posing Identified On Back Greece:1941 Wwii, An Illustrated Censored Military Card, From The Albanian FrontGreece:1941 Wwii, An Illustrated Censored Military Card, From The Albanian FrontVintage Postcard Uncle Sam World War One Our Flag Nurse PatrioticPostcard 2nd Sino-japanese War Commemorative Propaganda Vintage Army Japan ChinaOld China Canton, Navy Captain Tang Memorial Monument 广州 海军总长程公璧光铜像 PostcardTurkey -dardanelles-gallipoli War - German Feldpostkarte Italy 1935 Fascism Propaganda Avanguardisti MusketeersVictoria British Columbia: Ww1 Real Photo Pc, Sailors On Launches - Trio PhotoWw1 Wwi Postcard ~ Anzac ~ Kangaroo Beach, Gapa Tepe, Suvla Bay ~ GallipoliSacandaga Park New York Ny Postcard 1908 A Tug Of WarCarlin How Opening Ceremony The War Memorial, Old Postcard (j026)Wwi Usa Soldiers Showing Off Captured German Spiked Helmet For Fun RppcVintage Postcard Decoration Memorial Day Gar Girls With Soldier Portrait Kangaroo Southern Cross Shield Wattle Original Pre Ww1 1900s Postcard AustraliaRhode Island Ri Postcard C1910 Providence State House Gettysburg Flags Civil WarFantasy Photo Soldier Lady Smoking Cigarette Wwi Ww1 War Old C1915 Postcard Ge22Vintage Military Soldier Us Army Uniform Rppc / Real Photo Post Card Ww1Us Navy 2nd Class Battleship Uss San Marcos (uss Texas) Used As A Target In 1911Military Lockheed P-38 Interceptor Pursuit Plane Us Army Corps Postcard Old ViewWw2 Japan Propaganda Pc "bombing Of Pearl Harbor" Dec.7 1941 Midget Submarines Japan Postcards Navy Weapons Vintage Military Airship Aircraft Flying Boat PhotoPicture Postcard Of Three Black Watch Soldiers By Dundee Photographer (c7131).Red Cross War Dog Pee On German Soldier Original Ww1 Wwi Old C1915 PostcardGreece:1941 Wwii, An Illustrated Censored Military Card, From The Albanian FrontAtlantic City Gar Civil War Veterans 1910 Annual Encampment Advert - PostcardWw1 Wwi Postcard ~ Anzac ~ Hot Work By Australian Gunners ~ Canon, Military